From artisan boutiques to multi-million pound digital agencies, young business people are making their mark in some of Britain’s biggest cities, including Edinburgh, riding an entrepreneurial wave that saw a record number of new companies registered last year, research by Virgin StartUp reveals.

In interviews with young entrepreneurs from the UK’s top startup hot-spots, the Virgin not-for-profit company, set up to promote entrepreneurship, shows how generation Y are exploiting opportunities and overcoming difficult challenges in their home towns to build a whole variety of businesses.

The research coincides with Virgin StartUp’s HotHouse Tour, a series of regional workshops for budding entrepreneurs, concluding soon.

Figures from the national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain shows 526,446 new businesses were registered in 2013, compared with 484,224 in 2012. The top 7 hot-spots last year were Greater London 136,939 with new companies; Birmingham 16,281; Manchester 11,765; Glasgow 8085; Bristol 7589; Brighton 7499; and Edinburgh 7112.
According to a survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 5 per cent of those under the age of 30 were starting business in 2010. The figure had almost doubled by 2012.

Rising youth unemployment, workplace insecurity and disillusionment with dead-end jobs are some of the factors prompting many to strike out on their own, in sectors ranging from traditional trades, design, fashion to technology and digital marketing.

With little experience of business and modest start-up funds, many rely on their wits and learn from mistakes. For most, it’s a steep learning curve, and not everyone survives. According to one estimate, a third don’t make it through their first year of trading. But a willingness to share experiences and knowledge with others through networking groups gives them a fighting chance.

Amy Dolan is one of those young businesses started in Edinburgh. She is 23 and the founder of Ziggy Sawdust, a furniture redesign business. She says young people in the Scottish capital have established a vibrant hand-craft and creative design sector, encouraged by good local markets, design fairs and independent retailers that allow them to promote their products.

Dolan adds that few young entrepreneurs are able to set up shop in the city, as office rents are too high. “Many of these new businesses are like me – one-man bands. We all have quite small budgets. I work from home so my costs are minimal. But there are helpful organisations like Entrepreneurial Spark which offer other young people desk space, access to computers, phones and WIFI which also helps to keep down overheads,” she says.

“The high office rents in the city are a problem but also an opportunity. I think this forces you to be more creative and unconventional. You can set up pop-up shops, put up stalls in design fairs. In the future, I think young entrepreneurs would benefit from being able to occupy abandoned retail spaces; landlords supplying short-term leases for pop-ups; and more independent shops offering space to promote our work.”

Virgin is hoping to find more young entrepreneurs not just in their HotHouse Tour, but also through their fund schemes in the hubs of the UK, like Edinburgh, in order to boost younger generations into founding successful, competing businesses. And Edinburgh, as a startup hub, according to Dolan, has a lot to offer.

Submitted by Lola Olson